Helen McCarthy Tyalmuty is an Aboriginal/Irish woman from the Daly Rivermouth, south of Darwin. But her painting identity is solely with her mother’s Wadjigan tribe, specifically the Batjamal language group, from whom she inherited the mud crab as her totem. Born in Tennant Creek, she was schooled in North Queensland and has a BA from Deakin University.
Having leapt into the Aboriginal art world via her People’s Choice painting at the 2007 NATSIAAs featuring her grandfather’s canoes and commemorating the fact that he’d set them adrift in order to encourage his family to settle down and get an education, McCarthy is continually exploring different subjects for her painting. Her latest solo show at Agathon Galleries in Sydney has a range of subjects from evocations of the Daly River crocodiles – who are said to bear a grudge against humans because of mistreatment during the Dreamtime “ to landscapes reflecting the changing face of the seasons.
There’s the time for collecting crocodile eggs, the time for burning off around waterholes to attract wildlife to feed on new plant shoots and make the area safer for humans, and the map for sourcing the plant dyes which colour the fish nets (Syaw) that will be woven and mended by the women and harvest yet more food.
And then there’s the timeless saga of the battle between the Goanna and the Snake (Emenyginy e Afendggu) pictured here, which the King Brown snake always loses and dies.
Ngalgin is the Sea “ and as both Charles Darwin discovered and the Wadjigan know, it’s the source of all life on the land. In fact water dominates Wadjigan life to the extent that a Welcome to Land (Tyek Tyek) involves ‘baptising’ the new arrival with a mouthful of water from one of the region’s many streams and rivers.
Helen McCarthy was encouraged to paint by Agathon Galleries’ John Ioannou in 2005. Four years later her canvases are confidently stretching out to 2 metres in width, and her prices are as high as $27,000. John just kept encouraging me, says McCarthy today. He has been fantastic to work for.